Surprise! Today we’re giving you an AngryMetalGuy.com first: an exclusive song premiere! You may have heard the news that Swedish progressive metallers Soen will release Lotus on the 1st of February, 2019 on Silver Lining Music. Well, I’m incredibly stoked to present to you with two exclusives today. First, we have an exclusive listen to album’s first single “Rival” embedded here. Furthermore, to give this song premiere that distinctive AMG feel you’ll find my full length, in-depth review of Lotus below.
Pre-sale starts on November 16th, 2018 and the record is available on CD with a gorgeous digipack and as a deluxe 180-gram vinyl that sports an exceptional, dedicated vinyl master. You can also purchase a digital download, and the album has been Mastered for iTunes. Check the label website, or any of Soen‘s sites [Facebook, Twitter, Instagram] for more details.
Now, without further ado: “Rival” from Lotus.
I don’t usually listen to new albums with the band sitting in the room. But my first time through Soen‘s forthcoming album Lotus was just like that. We—most of the band and I—gathered in a Stockholm studio to hear David Castillo’s final master for the first time. I had Martin Lopez, Soen‘s drummer and primary songwriter on a couch behind me and to my right. Next to him on the couch, behind me and to my left, sat the gifted Lars Åhlund—the band’s keyboardist.1 Stationed firmly in my left blind spot was vocalist Joel Ekelöf, while bassist Stefan Stenberg sat to my left at about 10 o’clock. Only the band’s new guitarist—the unheralded Canadian, Cody Ford—was in absentia. The set up was simple: studio monitors at ear-height angled slightly in, some foam on the wall for acoustics, and a laptop with proprietary software for playing back the album’s final master. And I was placed in an IKEA office chair in front of the computer for the perfect listening experience. It was, I admit, a slightly surreal experience.
I have followed Soen‘s career from afar since 2012’s Cognitive and every album has seen them grow. The band’s sound has always been dynamic, with a trademark combination of bass-and-drum-heavy songs and haunting melody. This sound, of course, is the result of the band’s core visionaries: Lopez and Ekelöf, who have graced every record. Soen‘s first album is a (great) love letter to Tool, but the release of Tellurian in 2014 saw the group add bassist Stefan Stenberg and begin to explore a unique modern progressive vibe. 2017’s Lykaia highlighted an analog sound and a more blues-tinged retro feel but was buried alive by a brutal mastering job. And as much as I love the band’s releases, they’ve struggled to deliver an album that fully realized all of the band’s incalculable promise, with production and mastering often obscuring their strengths. This is Soen‘s challenge: can all the pieces come together on Lotus to realize their vision?
Lotus is an album defined by its contrasts. On the one hand, the record has a metal core. The riffing is massive, with an overdriven guitar tone that strongly differentiates it from Lykaia, while drums and bass drive the songs forward. These moments can be straightforward Soen tracks like “Opponent,” but there are moments like a hat-tip to death metal riffing in “Rival” or a proggy ‘awkward headbanging moment’ in “Covenant” that mark Soen as a band with a metal heart. Joel’s clear, brass timbre carries immediate, memorable melodies over the heavier material and lends a live feel to the album. The sense that Soen is writing for the live experience is clearest on “Martyr,” which is reminiscent of Muse with its grand chorus featuring an almost danceable bassline from Stefan Stenberg.
Lotus is also a haunting, fragile album. The album’s softer tracks are no less intense than the heavy material and evoke the work of Pink Floyd (“Lotus”) or Steven Wilson (doing Pink Floyd [“River”]). In the tradition of the heart-wrenching “The Words,” songs like “Lunacy” and “River” ache with loss and pain both lyrically and musically. In these moments, it’s the keys and guitars which bear the delicate, melancholic tone. Åhlund’s choices lend gorgeous details (like the countermelody on the chorus of “Lascivious”) and beds of soft organs. While Ford’s guitar work is the perfect blend of feel and technical skill—evoking David Gilmour in the best possible way again and again (see the stellar solos in “Lotus” and “Lascivious”). Details like the cellos on “Penance” or Ford’s uncanny use of a finger slide on “River,” complement the album’s skillful arrangements and add to its lush sound. Such attention to detail conveys the sense that the band has placed every note precisely where it belongs.
Lotus‘ strength isn’t just in its compositions and arrangements, however; it’s also in the album’s mix and master. The album isn’t just a “balanced mix,” where the “bass is audible.” Instead, David Castillo and Iñaki Marconi combined to deliver an album that is a great listen—even at a DR7. The master is loud, but the album is expertly mixed. Particularly notable, for example, are details like string buzz on Stenberg’s bass and ghost notes on Lopez’s drums. Lopez’s custom kit—with its incredible tone—shines throughout and when the rhythm section is combined, it anchors the mix. Joel’s vocals sound better than ever, as well. His voice has a crystal clear—and relatively dry—sound, that is notable for eschewing the prominent vocal beds from previous albums. Still, the harmonies aren’t gone—they’re just mixed down further, giving an immediacy and prominence to Ekelöf’s voice. Lotus crests into special when Ford’s stellar tone and immaculate feel are added to this sonic menagerie, making it all feel cohesive. And while the CD and digital mixes are great, the vinyl master is exceptional; balanced, airy and it highlights the album’s contrasts with alacrity.
Lotus is a complete album because it balances Soen‘s contrasts and unifies them into a sound that is more than the sum of its parts. The peaks and valleys are not exclusive to each other; they define each other. Compositions snap into place, and Soen delivers song after excellent song. The album’s 54 minutes flow by quickly and it has an addictive quality, with the closing tones making me want to start listening again. Everything—from the songwriting to the mix to the album’s packaging—seems to have aligned to encapsulate Soen‘s unique vision. There’s a palpable sense on Lotus that Soen has challenged itself to deliver perfection and the album feels like an example of a band that’s striving for growth and maturing together. The attention to detail, the interplay between the musicians, and the increasingly unique sound that Soen has developed, all point to Soen truly hitting stride on Lotus. So while perfection is only possible to assess retrospectively, Soen is getting dangerously close to realizing that goal.